Bills of interest 30 days into the 84th Regular Session
One month into the 2015 Texas Legislature regular session, there are some indicators of the kinds of issues that will affect nonprofit organizations, state associations and foundations. Available here is my First Summary of Issues Affecting Nonprofit Organizations. Each summary will grow in size, be updated regularly and revised, as more bills are filed and as committees begin hearings.
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With newly-inaugurated Governor Gregg Abbott at the top of a new group of state elected officials, business as usual this session seems unlikely. In the early bill filings, these issues have surfaced:
Legal liability of volunteers, local organizations and property owners who support their programs and events is the subject of several bills. Texas has several helpful statutes already in place that are intended to eliminate or reduce the legal liability of volunteers and participants. HB 1040 addresses liability issues for volunteer officials at local sporting events. Other bills are concerned with limiting liability for activities in community gardens, “agri-tourism”events, or volunteer state parks restoration teams. In HB 1116, social workers doing volunteer work would be added to the current list of volunteer healthcare providers that are immune from liability.
The legal status of unpaid volunteer interns is the subject of HB 1151, which would add a definition in the Texas Labor Code defining the circumstances that create an employer-employee relationship between the sponsoring organization and the intern, whether or not the intern is paid. With the increasing popularity of these internships, more attention should be given to this issue under state and federal employment laws. Many argue that volunteer internships are overused or misused by organizations and businesses.
E-Verify is a service of the federal government available to an employer to verify the legal residence and employment eligibility of a new hire. Texas legislators like it a lot and seem to want to require almost every employer, public or private, to use it. If your organization has a grant or contract with a state or local government agency, E-Verify may become part of your hiring routine and contract compliance if these bills are passed.
Directing the Legislature to take a fresh look at all state tax exemptions granted to nonprofit organizations in the Texas Tax Code is the subject of several bills in every session and in HB 1003, just filed. It’s a tough idea to swallow but one whose time may come at some future date, as the state searches for more sources of revenue. Property and sales tax exemptions represent a substantial loss of revenue under current law. Under these proposals, all tax exemptions would vanish (“sunset”) every six years, and the Texas Sunset Commission or blue-ribbon committees would be directed to review the policy and effect of the exemptions and recommend continuation or termination during the next legislative session. In effect, entire segments of the state’s existing tax regime would vanish periodically unless re-authorized by the legislature. This scenario promises a lot of anxiety and work for the approximately 50,000 Texas nonprofit organizations affected to keep these exemptions.
Proposed requirements to report advocacy and lobbying by Section 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations have been the subject of considerable legislative angst in past sessions. A tempest was generated by SB 346 in the 2013 session and was vetoed by Governor Perry (see blog post). “Dark money” is the term pasted across all conversations on this issue although substantial constitutional issues are involved as well as the reality of observing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. There are strong feelings on both sides of the issue.
Stay tuned to www.NonprofitLawandPolicy.com , stay informed and stay involved during this legislative session for the benefit of your fellow citizen leaders, board members, colleagues, volunteers and their organizations, who are all doing good works in our Texas communities.